Putrajaya to contest High Court decision invalidating 1986 ban on ‘Allah’ use by Christians

An aerial view of the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 23, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
An aerial view of the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 23, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 15 — The federal government gave notice today that it will appeal against last week’s High Court ruling that annulled a directive prohibiting Christians from using the word “Allah” in their religious education and books.

The notice of appeal dated March 12 was filed at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya and copied to lawyers for Sarawakian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill who initiated the judicial review that led to the High Court ruling.

Solicitor-General Datuk Abdul Razak Musa confirmed the filing of the appeal.

A copy of the notice of appeal, undersigned by senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan, was also extended to the Registrar of the KL High Court (Appellate & Special Powers).

Jill Ireland has been named a respondent in the suit while both the Malaysian government and the Home Ministry were named appellants.

On March 10, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that the government directive via a December 5, 1986 circular issued by the Home Ministry’s publications control division was unlawful and unconstitutional.

Justice Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin, who has since been elevated to be a Court of Appeal judge, granted three of the specific constitutional reliefs sought by the Sarawakian native of the Melanau tribe.

The High Court had made this ruling in Jill Ireland’s case, who had previously challenged the government’s seizure of her eight educational compact discs (CDs) containing the word “Allah” in their titles and which were meant for her personal use. The CDs were seized in 2008 based on the 1986 directive, but were previously returned in 2015 to Jill Ireland following court orders.

The word “Allah” is Arabic for God and had been adopted into the Malay language, and had been used for generations by Malay-speaking Christians in the country, especially those living in Sabah and Sarawak.

The three orders granted by the judge include a declaration that it is Jill Ireland’s constitutional right under the Federal Constitution’s Article 3, 8, 11 and 12 to import the publications in exercise of her rights to practise religion and right to education. The publications mentioned by the judge were in reference to eight educational compact discs (CDs) that Jill Ireland had brought back to Malaysia from Indonesia for her own personal use.

The other two declarations granted by the judge today are that a declaration under Article 8 that Jill Ireland is guaranteed equality of all persons before the law and is protected from discrimination against citizens on the grounds of religion in the administration of the law ― specifically the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Customs Act 1967), and a declaration that government directive issued by the Home Ministry’s publication control’s division via a circular dated December 5, 1986 is unlawful and unconstitutional.

The Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Jill Ireland filed her lawsuit almost 13 years ago after the Home Ministry seized eight educational compact discs (CDs) containing the word “Allah” meant for her personal use at the Sepang LCCT airport upon her return from Indonesia.

Following the May 11, 2008 seizure, Jill Ireland filed for judicial review in August the same year against the home minister and the government of Malaysia.

The High Court had in July 2014 ruled that the Home Ministry was wrong to seize the CDs and ordered that they be returned, but did not address the constitutional points then.

Jill Ireland finally received her CDs in September 2015, months after the Court of Appeal had in June 2015 directed the Home Ministry to do so.

At the same time, the Court of Appeal in June 2015 sent two constitutional issues back to the High Court to be heard, namely a declaration that it is her constitutional right under the Federal Constitution’s Article 11 to import the publications in exercise of her rights to practise religion and right to education, and a declaration under Article 8 that she is guaranteed equality of all persons before the law and is protected from discrimination against citizens on the grounds of religion in the administration of the law ― specifically the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Customs Act 1967).

The High Court later heard the constitutional issues over two days in October and November 2017, but the decision which was initially scheduled to be delivered in March 2018 has been deferred several times over the years, due to various reasons such as both sides seeking resolution outside the court and also the movement control order.

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